Shoppers lined up at stores across the nation starting before dawn in search of bargains on everything from blouses to big-screen TVs as part of the Black Friday shopping ritual.
They were lured out not only by a generally strong economy, helped by a rising stock market, but also by what many perceived as exceptional deals. Retailers seeded their advertising with even more lucrative deep-discount "doorbusters" than last year, and offered more dramatic discounts, said Traci Gregorski, senior vice president of marketing at Market Track.
As a result, this year's Black Friday could be record-setting. Early data indicates that Black Friday online sales at U.S. retail Web sites have brought in $490 million so far between midnight and 8:30 a.m. ET., reported Adobe Digital Insights. Adobe forecasts that Black Friday sales online will surpass $3 billion for the first time ever, hitting $3.05 billion in online revenue, up 11.3% over last year.
More shoppers are using their smartphones and tablets, too. Adobe expects Black Friday to be the first day in retail history to exceed $1 Billion in mobile revenue.
The deals brought out consumers like Linda Dubbs, of Hanover, Penn., who turned her Black Friday shopping into a 16-hour marathon that started at 2:30 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving Day. "As long as I keep going, I'm okay," she said.
Dubbs wielded her smartphone to hunt for bargains in a plan of action that brought her to Home Depot in Hanover at about 6:30 a.m. on Black Friday. She was 12th spot in line at the home-improvement megastore before being eighth in line at a Kohl's store earlier.
She also downloaded apps for the major stores and was searching for the best deals, such as the heating blanket she chose to buy at Kohl's over JC Penney. "I checked to see if it was a good price or a bad price," Dubbs said.
She was far from done. After hitting Home Depot and five other stores, Dubbs planned to head to Lowe's and Staples to buy gifts for her three daughters. With an exuberant smile, she rattled off her purchases: clothes, shoes, a vacuum, a pressure cooker and pillows.
By being open on Thanksgiving Day, retailers can ring up more sales and take some of the pressure off store staffs when it comes to managing crowds. "It's totally different now than it used to be," said Maura Macissac, manager of the Eddie Bauer store at Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth Beach, Del. "We used to open on Friday morning and there would be huge lines. Now we start on Thanksgiving so it's a lot more spread out."
More than 100 million shoppers were expected to partake in the Black Friday hullabaloo. Overall, more than 137 million plan to shop over the extended Thanksgiving Day weekend, according to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. But Black Friday still stands out as the day expected to attract the largest crowds with nearly three-fourths of buyers (74%) planned to shop then, about the same as last year.
Nearly half plan to shop on Saturday -- about one out of four specifically to support Small Business Saturday. Another one out of four expect to shop Sunday, the retail trade group estimates.
Shopping at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., Kate Gundburg, 33, of Accord, N.Y., figured she saved 40% to 70% on her purchases, which included a drone and several video games. She prefers shopping online. "This is my first time out in six years. I could do without the crowd," said Gundburg, accompanied by her mother Carol Dennin.
"It's a tradition," Dennin said. "I'm not crazy about shopping online. It's generational."
In Louisville, Ky., Manasaa Kannan agreed that research is also key to finding the best Black Friday deals. When she and friend Sanjana Mahesh headed out at 5 a.m. on the hunt for Converse sneakers, Kannan had already been perusing deals online for nearly two hours. At Kohl's, she found, they could find the shoes for $41.25, with an additional $15 in Kohl's Cash if they spent $50.
Also on their shopping list: black chokers and a long-sleeve crop top for Mahesh. The two mostly planned to shop for themselves but said they might shop for gifts for family members.
Mahesh and Kannan, who are students at the Ohio State University and Centre College, respectively, have been shopping on Black Friday together for about seven years. Their advice? Refuse to pay retail price on Black Friday, Mahesh said, and "have fun. Don't take it too seriously."
Dedication pays off, too, said Paul Grafton, who had been waiting in a long line for more than an hour at the White Rose Bar and Grill in York, Penn., Friday morning. The restaurant was selling its gift cards for half the normal price. "It's the best deal I wanted to stand on line for," he said.
For Matt Kita, Black Friday is a tradition that he has sold to his wife's side of the family. In town from outside Philadelphia, he convinced them to hit Tyson's Corner Center in McLean, Va., about 5 a.m. "It's good. It's fun," he said as he took a break from the deals on a bench with his infant nephew in his lap.
With no specific items on his list, Kita said he's just trying to get as much shopping done in one day. "Deals are deals," he said.
But he noticed lower turnout and less urgency among the shopping crowds. "This seems pretty low key this year," Kita said. "I've seen it way crazier than this. This is pretty low key, pretty easy so far."
If crowds seemed smaller that's because Black Friday’s status as the busiest shopping day of the year is slowly slipping away. “The holiday season that used to start at 6 a.m. on Black Friday morning starts a week in or two before online or in store,’’ says Brian Yarbrough, consumer analyst at Edward Jones. Coupled with a holiday weekend that concludes with Cyber Monday “Black Friday as a core shopping event that used to always be in the top five (shopping days) continues to decrease in importance.’’
That doesn't bother Cedric Barnes of Dover, Del., an early morning shopper at the Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth Beach, Del. He prefers the more subdued Black Friday crowds. "It's more civilized these days," he said. "When they were kids, I was the guy up at 1 or 2 in the morning when the doors opened and the employees went running."
Barnes gathered up his teenage children Cydney and Cedric II to go shopping at 5 a.m. for their own Christmas presents. "I don't do the Santa thing anymore," he said.
Contributing: Dustin Levy in Hanover, Pa., Kirsten Clark in Louisville, Ky., Jason Plotkin in York, Pa., Scott Goss in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Ryan Miller in McLean, Va., and Eli Blumenthal in Paramus, N.J.